I’m always a bit wary of writing about an LP too soon after getting it, especially from someone you really like because the tendency for me is to gush and tell you how incredible it is, before schlepping it back on the shelf and forgetting all about it for 9 years until you remember it again on a whim and think, ‘I guess I wasn’t too into that one, really’. Or, of course, playing it a bit thinking ‘that’s ok’ and suddenly realising 2 years later that it is, in fact incredible. Being a reserved man-type creature thing anyway, it takes me about 3 years to process anything satisfactorily. Which is why, ladies and gentlemen I can stand before you today and confidently proclaim Atoms For Peace Amok as a work of pure genius, whereas in 2013 it fetched up #4 in my annual list*.
When Thom Yorke decided to put together a band to play his solo stuff**, unlike you or I would do, he didn’t have to put an advert in the local paper for ‘Paranoid singer with supra-apocalyptic worldview seeks bassist and drummer to play funny computer guitar music, no time wasters, dickwads or Mumford & Sons fans’, no he just got out that special address book you get when you officially become a famous dude and dialled Flea and Joey Waronker from Beck’s band. Better still, they just decided to hang out and bash out an LP, whilst doing all those crazy rock star things like staying up ’til midnight, eating cereal straight out of the box, and returning their library books late.
As all manner of super groups through the ages have shown just sticking some talented chaps together in a room doesn’t necessarily get you the next OK Computer, no matter how much dope you smoke and township jive you listen to.
Right from the opening bars of, ‘Before Your Very Eyes …’ it’s very obvious that everything has gelled and you’re in the presence of something very special indeed when you spin Amok. The rhythm is fast, high in the mix, the skittering guitar is very African sounding, the Divine Whine is in great form and then when Flea’s bass starts to pick out a pattern underneath everything it just gets too much for me. The electronics lift up the track, they don’t overwhelm it and the overall effect is warm and complex, you can get happily lost in the spaces of ‘Before Your Very Eyes…’.
Yorke said in interviews that he was interested in pushing his music to the point at which you can’t tell the men from the machines, the synthesised from the real and that’s certainly borne out here. If you take the track ‘Amok’, you can seriously twist your melon working out which is which, to the point where you realise that there’s simply no point in keeping those distinctions at all, the band and Nigel Godrich win. The laptop is in here, but it’s just another instrument in the set-up and by no means the dominant one either. There’s something about the pulsing, descending poly rhythmic spirals on ‘Amok’ that absolutely beguile and bewitch me – it’s the sonic equivalent of lying on a rug in the warm sunshine, watching the clouds drift on over the sky. More than a good track, it’s an experience.
The closest to a conventional song on Amok is the swoonsome ‘Judge Jury and Executioner’, which seems to be built on the chassis of a mutant folk song and even has a touch of that Radiohead about it, underneath the divine choir of fallen angels, percussion and atmospherics. It is by far the shortest track on offer and the punchiest too. The furthest away we get is ‘Unless’, which ups the skittering breakbeat factor (SB-bF) by 54.7% and ends up riding off into the wide blue yonder on a foundation of studio warped bass and what sounds like Jean Michel Jarre playing all the bass synth lines from Oxygene simultaneously on a broken synth. It’s dense and has that machine sheen down to a tee, but not without a human touch.
My favourite track today^ is easily ‘Stuck Together Pieces’ which is the track where Flea’s work is most prominent. The music is the most delicate and fragile on the whole album and Yorke’s voice is quiet, moderated, melodic, resigned and borne aloft on a simpler groove here. Maybe world-weary would be a better description? especially with the sentiments expressed,
Why be rain when you could be sun?
Why tie yourself to anyone?
Why be here when you’d rather be somewhere else?
Well I know but I don’t care
The track feels short even at five and a half minutes, I could have stood it for another ten at least, riding it through the stratosphere on its’ vapour trail.
I will spare you the full track-by-track, mostly because I’d hate to bore you and partly because I can’t think of many synonyms for ‘poly rhythmic’. Amok is, as I may have mentioned, a fantastic LP. There is so much to explore and experience in these grooves, you can literally spend a pleasurable span getting lost in it, maybe by 2019 I will have fathomed and plundered all its secrets. More to the point, it isn’t just an intellectual exercise there is a warmth and humanity in here that makes it all the more worthwhile.
But enough of the superficial stuff, we all know that albums aren’t about the music*^.
When Amok was released there was a very limited version in a triple foldout foil-embossed, debossed sleeve, all the better to showcase Stanley Donwood’s brilliant linocut artwork ‘Lost Angeles Lost’, an apocalyptic vision of L.A being struck by comets, fire and flood, a perfect visual corollary of the music. I was too slow though and had to make do with the excellent ‘normal’ version instead, which comes with a handy CD of the album too. When I really got into the album I could have kicked myself for missing the earlier, albeit more expensive issue of it, still life’s too short to pine over spilt milk after the horse has bolted and all that jazz. Until one morning there was an email saying they’d unearthed a minute quantity of the original version, reader did I hesitate? baring in mind that I already, effectively have the music twice over by then? did I fuck!
I’m glad too, the cover is just immense. Donwood’s art is brilliant anyway but to see it in all its foil-embossed glory is magnificent. To have extra bits on the LP inner sleeves is better still (the other LP’s ones are plain). I’ve been reading about the original artwork here on the artist’s highly entertaining website, the original prints are 18 feet long! I’ve not played this copy of Amok yet and probably never will but owning it gives me a warm downstairs fuzzy feeling; hey-ho a collector’s life for me.
PS – just watch how much fun they’re having here – in particular the beginning of the second track with Thom’s freaky-freak on dancing. Just see what an incredibly tight band they are too.
*moron, that I am.
**which I find a bit too electronicky, personally. I like the man, but his solo music less so.
^which differs from the one yesterday and the one on Sunday^^.
^^I’ve been trying to write about Amok for about a week now!
*^I only found out last week that you can, apparently ‘play’ records using something called a ‘turntable’ – who knew? I thought they were just for ogling.